As snow melts, protect your home against flooding

By Tom Phelan - Staff Writer
Feature Article - posted Fri., Mar. 4, 2011
- Contributed Photo

You only have to look out your window to know that we have had a lot of snow in New England this year. Sure, some of it has melted. But I am quite confident that we will get at least one more storm before Old Man Winter heads back north of the Arctic Circle.

The general rule of thumb is that 10 inches of snow will produce one inch of water when melted. There is also a whole lot of water in the ground in a frozen state, even though you can’t see it. Sooner or later, the temperature will rise, the snow and ice will begin to melt, and the frozen ground will begin to thaw.

Where is all that water going to go?

Well, if you have ever had water in your basement, you know where I’m going with this line of thought. If any of that water begins to show up on your basement walls or floor, you will be in for the fight of your life. Begin to take some steps to avert this potential home disaster. If you are successful, you may never know whether Mother Nature would have come to rest in your basement. On the other hand, if water still comes through the walls and/or floors, you might have more of a problem than just an excessively wet winter.

Start at the roof of your home. If the gutters are still ice-dammed, work to free them up before a quick thaw hits. Fill an old stocking with an environmentally-friendly snow-melting product, and place it just above the ice dam. You will surely need a few of these to get things moving.

Next, get ready for the flow of liquid through your gutter system. Assuming your gutters and drainpipes are clean and free of debris, check to be sure that none of the joints are loosened up. At the bottom of all the drainpipes, make certain you have a splash block to divert water away from your house. There are several different types. Choose one that fits your aesthetic sense, and set it at a steep angle against the foundation and under the drainpipe.

Now look at your foundation. Can’t see it? Then you should clear the snow several feet away from your foundation all around the perimeter. If snow builds up adjacent to the home, it can melt right down the side of your foundation.

Depending on the age of your house and the quality of its construction, it may or may not be equipped to carry off the water melting down – or percolating up – during the spring snowmelt. Foundations should have drain systems built around the perimeter at the footer level. There’s nothing you can do about that now, but let’s hope you don’t find out this spring that your system is non-existent or inadequate. If you do have an aqua-tragedy, it may be worth having a qualified contractor investigate around your foundation.

Other culprits may be at fault if water gets through your foundation. Maybe the ground around your home doesn’t slope away from the foundation. Sometimes walkways slope toward the house, carrying runoff water to – instead of away from – your house.

Now, if you are experienced in these situations, perhaps your house already has some fortifications in place. Is your basement equipped with a sump pump? That’s a submersible system, positioned below the level of your basement floor, to capture and expel water coming through the foundation or up through the concrete itself. Your floor may even have drains that channel the water to the sump, where the pump can automatically get rid of it.

Check the sump pump now to be sure it is in good working order, that nothing could clog it, and that nothing hangs up the float that tells it when it’s time to start draining water.

Finally, check your homeowner’s insurance to see what water damage conditions are covered. What you think is a “flood” and how your insurance company defines one legally may be totally different. Get all that cleared up now, before the spring thaw begins.


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